A champion in the making
Resiliency is the hallmark of a true champion. Michele Howley, 14, has proved she is both. Howley recently won the 200 breaststroke at the Age Group State Championships for the Long Course Summer Season at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
The state gold, however, did not come easily for the Glen Ellyn resident. The Aug. 1-3 event featured nearly 70 teams in the 14-and-under age group. Howley, a Wheaton Swim Club member, earned the first seed for the Friday night 100-breaststroke after swimming a 1:15.28 in the preliminary race that morning. Unfortunately, she false started that evening and was disqualified from the race.
Although her swimming skills were always strong, her mental toughness was something that Howley had to prove to herself and her coach, Bob Strube.
"Bob told me that this will be the time he's going to find out if I'm a big girl now," Howley said. "Because obviously I was crushed."
She passed the test with flying colors the next morning by bouncing back to earn the top seed in the 200 breaststroke finals with a time of 2:45.58. She nearly equaled that time in the Saturday night race with a gold-medal time of 2:45.63.
"I know that my mental strength is getting better," Howley said. "It took a lot of strength to get back in the pool the next day and win a first."
Howley was also a part of the girls 400-medley relay (age 13-14), which won the gold with a mark of 2:33.20. The relay team included Connie Hsu (backstroke), Howley (breaststroke), Tori Bertschy (butterfly), and Christine Favia (freestyle). Their time broke a Wheaton Swim Club team record set in 2006.
Howley is just now starting to live up to expectations after battling some injuries during the past year. Coach Strube is not surprised.
"She's an extreme talent," he said. "I've been coaching for a long time and I can say I've never coached a breaststroker with more talent."
The veteran swim coach believes she has been successful thus far primarily on raw talent, coupled with her desire to win.
"She's a great racer," Strube said. "I think she just mentally prepares herself to swim at her best when it's a championship type situation."
Strube, however, has coached Howley for a year and has seen her struggle with injuries. With that chapter hopefully behind her, he sees even greater success in her future.
"Once we can put things together, and she can combine it with hard work and training, who knows (how far she can go)?" Strube said.
Howley certainly has come a long way, especially when you consider she did not really start swimming competitively until she was almost 10 years old. From that beginning, she showed a natural ability in the breaststroke, and has just now started to come into her own.
She hopes to qualify for the Junior Nationals short course meet to be held next March in Orlando, Fla. She has missed the cut in the past by as little as 0.3 seconds.
"That was a little disappointing," she said. "But it's all right. I've still got a long time to go."
Howley, who will be a freshman this fall at Wheaton Academy, has committed to her coach that she will use that time wisely. She would like to someday go to college on a swimming scholarship, and even has an eye out for the 2012 Olympic trials. With that must come hard work and dedication.
"Bob always said I run off adrenaline and I do well off that, so he said imagine what I could do if I worked really hard," Howley said. "I still have to do that. I still have to realize that that's what it's going to take. I promised Bob this season it's going to happen, and I'm going to just totally commit. I believe that I can do it."
Resiliency, heart, and dedication. A tough combination to beat at any level.